Fall Movie Preview

The Hartford Courant

Between the end of summer and the edge of winter and the holiday season, the movies shrink. The budgets are lower; the weekend totals dip.

As young acolytes await the second coming of Harry Potter on Nov. 15 and older fans count the days until Pierce Brosnan returns as 007 in "Die Another Day" on Nov. 22, the multiplexes must pin their hopes on a third outing for Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in probably the fall's biggest moneymaker, the remake/prequel "Red Dragon," opening Oct. 4.

A couple of the more intriguing pictures star women, with glamorous 50-plus stars Susan Sarandon and Goldie Hawn playing aging groupies in "The Banger Sisters," and the fine young Reese Witherspoon as a New Yorker returning to her Southern roots in "Sweet Home Alabama." Sarandon also stars with Holly Hunter and Dustin Hoffman in "Moonlight Mile."

"White Oleander" offers something more serious, with Michelle Pfeiffer as a mother behind bars and Robin Wright Penn and Renée Zellweger as two foster moms. An even more intriguing women's picture is "Frida," a portrait of artist Frida Kahlo that Salma Hayek fought to play. And Cate Blanchett takes action against drug dealers in "Heaven," though no firm date is set for Hartford.

Two of the fall's most promising entries feature unlikely stars, teen idols with radically different styles. Adam Sandler has what has been described as a breakthrough role in Paul Thomas Anderson's "Punch-Drunk Love," a big winner at Cannes. And Eminem takes on a quasi-autobiographical role in the gritty "8 Mile," from director Curtis Hanson.

Also of interest are two pictures of Japanese ancestry. Naomi Watts heads the cast of "The Ring," an Americanization of a big 1998 hit, "Ringu," while Pixar has overseen the dubbing of a proclaimed masterwork of Japanimation, "Miyahzaki's Spirited Away." A number of other remakes are due, including a new "Swept Away," starring Madonna, and yet another "The Four Feathers," with Heath Ledger proving he is no coward.

And what is one to make of "The Truth About Charlie," Jonathan Demme's revision of "Charade"? Then too, there is "I Spy," this time with Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson.

After a summer crammed with secret agents, there are two more in view, before Bond. Jackie Chan finds that clothes make the man in "The Tuxedo," and the busy Spy Dad, Antonio Banderas, pairs with the kicking Angel, Lucy Liu, in the oddly titled "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever."

Both Robert De Niro and Benjamin Bratt again play cops, respectively in "City by the Sea" and "Abandon." Two ensemble pictures, "Welcome to Collinwood" and "Knockabout Guys," belong in the caper category. The lone science-fiction entry is "The Core."

Thrillers of various sorts include Brian De Palma's "Femme Fatale"; "Trapped"; "Formula 51," starring Samuel L. Jackson; "The Transporter"; and "Swimfan."

The ups and down of urban life are on view in "Barbershop" with Ice Cube, "Brown Sugar" with Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan, and "Paid in Full."

There is not much for the kids, apart from "Tuck Everlasting" and "Pokémon 4 Ever."

Release dates have been especially volatile of late, so nearly everything is subject to change. But here is how the movie horizon looks as the summer ends.


City by the Sea - Robert De Niro covers the waterfront as a New York homicide detective who returns to his past in Long Beach, Long Island, after his estranged son, played by James Franco, is named as a prime suspect in a murder. Frances McDormand co-stars, and Eliza Dushku, William Forsythe, George Dzundza and Patti Lupone are featured. Michael Caton-Jones directs. R.

Swimfan - In a junior version of "Fatal Attraction," Jesse Bradford and Shiri Appleby play a perfect young couple whose life crawls into a danger zone with the arrival of an obsessive and seductive new babe in town, played by Erika Christensen. John Polson directs, and his cast includes Broadway diva Kate Burton, with Dan Hedaya as the swim coach. PG-13.

Sept. 13

The Transporter - Jason Statham, Shu Qi, François Berléand and Matt Schulze head the cast of Cory Yuen's thriller about a former Special Forces soldier, now an expatriate mercenary, who is hired to kidnap the wild daughter of a Chinese crime lord who is smuggling his countrymen into France. The screenplay is by Robert Marc Kamen and the French director-producer Luc Besson. R.

Barbershop - Ice Cube plays Calvin, the proprietor of a tonsorial parlor on Chicago's South Side, inherited from his father. After selling the burdensome place to a loan shark, Calvin experiences a change of heart. The ensemble includes Cedric the Entertainer as an old barber with a big mouth and no customers, Sean Patrick Thomas as a highly educated barber with a superiority complex and Troy Garity as a white man who just wants to cut hair. Also featured under Tim Story's direction are rap star Eve and big Anthony Anderson, a Cube favorite. PG-13.

Stealing Harvard - Jason Lee is a trailer-park denizen who has promised to pay the tuition of his niece if she gets into college. But when she gains admittance to Harvard, he doesn't have the $29,829 for tuition. So he teams with his pal, played by Tom Green, to obtain the money, underhandedly. Bruce McCulloch directs a cast that includes Leslie Mann, Megan Mullally, Dennis Farina, Richard Jenkins, John C. McGinley and Chris Penn. PG-13.

Sept. 20

The Four Feathers - Previously filmed in 1921, 1928 and 1939, and remade for television in 1958 as "Storm Over the Nile," this tale of cowardice and courage based on an A.E.W. Mason story pits British troops against Muslims in a Sudan uprising led by the Mahdi. Heath Ledger now plays the officer who resigns his post and receives four feathers, signifying cowardice from his friends. Then he goes undercover to save his comrades. Wes Bentley plays a friend; Kate Hudson is the fiancée; and Djimon Hounsou and Michael Sheen have featured roles. Shekhar Kapur ("Elizabeth") directs. PG-13.

Trapped - Stuart Townsend and Charlize Theron play Will and Karen Jennings, who find themselves taken hostage in different cities as their daughter is abducted by a team that includes Joe and Cheryl Hickey, acted by Kevin Bacon and Courtney Love, and their cousin Marvin Pool, played by Pruitt Taylor Vince. As the Jennings fight to win back their child, played by Dakota Fanning, the Jennings discover the true motivation behind the kidnapping. Luis Mandoki ("Angel Eyes") directs. R.

The Banger Sisters - Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon team up as the former "belles of rock 'n' roll," known for their intimacies with every willing legend of music - with pictures to prove it. Their reunion, 20 years later, brings together a woman living in the past and one who is hiding from those golden days. Bob Dolman is the writer-director, and the cast includes Geoffrey Rush, Erika Christensen, Robin Thomas, Eva Amurri (Sarandon's daughter) and Matthew Carey. R.

Slap Her ... She's French - Piper Perabo ("The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle," "Coyote Ugly") now tries an accent as Genevieve Le Plouff, a foreign-exchange student in hornrims and a beret, who comes to live with Jane McGregor's Starla Grady, the high school beauty with everything, except passing grades in French. Also featured in Melanie Mayron's teen comedy of treachery and betrayal are Matt Czuchry as Starla's QB, Michael McKean as the French teacher, and Julie White, Brandon Smith, Trent Ford, Alexandra Adi, Nicki Aycox and Jesse James. PG-13.

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever -Antonio Banderas plays a reclusive former FBI agent manhunter, Jeremiah Ecks, haunted by the unexplained death of his wife. Blackmailed, he must track down the mysterious agent, code-named Sever, played by Lucy Liu. She has kidnapped the young son of the leader of a secret committee of international security agencies. The plot centers on an injectable microscopic assassination device that kills in an instant, leaving no trace. Not yet rated.

Sept. 27

Sweet Home Alabama - Hot after "Legally Blonde," Reese Witherspoon stars as New York fashion designer Melanie Carmichael in this Deep South romantic comedy from Andy Tennant ("Ever After"). Though she has gotten herself engaged to the city's most eligible bachelor, played by Patrick Dempsey, her past holds many secrets, including Josh Lucas' Jake, the redneck husband she married in high school, who refuses to divorce her. So crafty Melanie sneaks back home to Alabama to confront her past. Candice Bergen plays New York's mayor, the fiancé's mother, and Fred Ward, Mary Kay Place and Jean Smart lend support. PG-13.

The Tuxedo - Jackie Chan and Jennifer Love Hewitt team up as a cabbie-turned-chauffeur and his new partner in the secret-agent game in Kevin Donovan's feature directing debut, which centers on magical formal wear. When Chan's Jimmie Tong tries on the prized old tux of his millionaire playboy boss, he discovers the suit gives him much-needed super powers. Featured in this espionage comedy are Jason Isaacs (as the tuxedo's owner), Richie Coster, Debi Mazar and Peter Stormare. PG-13.

Oct. 4

Red Dragon - Previously filmed by Michael Mann as "Manhunter," this prequel stars Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, with Edward Norton as ex-FBI agent Will Graham and Ralph Fiennes as Francis Dolarhyde, the horrific killer known as "The Tooth Fairy." Drawn from the novel written by Thomas Harris before "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal," the film's screenwriter is Ted Tally ("Lambs"). The cast includes Harvey Kietel, Emily Watson, Mary Louise Parker and Philip Seymour Harris. Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour 2") directs this tale of Graham's decision to delve into the mind of "Hannibal the Cannibal," who nearly killed him. R.

Moonlight Mile - Oscar winners Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon and Holly Hunter head the cast of this romantic comedy from Brad Silberling ("City of Angels").When Jake Gyllenhaal's Joe Nast's plans to marry suffer an unexpected loss, he tries to be the dutifully bereaved husband-to-be, and perfect would-be son-in-law to Hoffman's Ben and Sarandon's JoJo.Then another woman unexpectedly enters his life. PG-13.

Miyazaki's Spirited Away - The latest film from legendary animation director Hayao Miyazaki ("Princess Mononoke"), winner of the prestigious Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival, makes its North American debut in a newly dubbed print. Miyazaki's film follows10-year-old Chihiro, who discovers a secret world when she and her family venture through a hillside tunnel. When her parents undergo a mysterious transformation, Chihiro must fend for herself as she encounters strange spirits, assorted creatures and a grumpy sorceress who seeks to prevent her from returning to the human world. The film ranks as the most successful film in the history of Japanese cinema, and its American version was supervised by creative consultant John Lasseter of Pixar. PG-13

Oct. 11

White Oleander - Alison Lohman takes on her first major starring role as Astrid, who bounces from one foster home to another after her mother, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, is incarcerated for poisoning her boyfriend with an extract from oleander flowers. Robin Wright Penn and Renée Zellweger play two of the foster mothers. Peter Kominsky directs from a screenplay based on Janet Fitch's Oprah book-club pick. PG-13.

Tuck Everlasting - Based on the award-winning book by Natalie Babbitt, this family-oriented film stars three Academy Award-winners, Ben Kingsley, Sissy Spacek and William Hurt. Alexis Bledel plays Winnie Foster, a teenage girl who longs for a life outside the control of her domineering mother, played by Amy Irving. When lost in the woods near her home, she happens upon Jesse Tuck, acted by Jonathan Jackson. He and his family (Hurt, Spacek and Scott Bairstow) immediately take her in. But the Tucks hold a powerful secret, and the mysterious Man in the Yellow Suit (Kingsley) is tracking them down. Jay Russell directs. PG.

Knockaround Guys - Floating around awaiting release for many a month, this tale at last emerges because of the successes of one of its "guys," Vin Diesel. Cast as one of four sons of a prominent Brooklyn hood, Diesel co-stars with another member of the "Saving Private Ryan" ensemble, Barry Pepper, along with Seth Green and Andrew Davoli. The veterans Dennis Hopper and John Malkovich lend seasoning to the fight of the mini-mobsters to retrieve a bag of cash in a Montana hick town ruled by an evil sheriff. Lawrence Bender, Quentin Tarantino's producer partner, directs. R.

Pokémon 4 Ever - Celebi, the new Pokémon known as the Voice of the Forest, can summon extraordinary powers and leap through time. Meeting the young traveler Sam, Celebi uses its powers to escape an evil Pokémon hunter, and accidentally takes the boy with him. The two then encounter Ash, Pikachu and the mighty Pokémon Suicune. But Celebi is captured and forced to use its powers to destroy the forest. Jim Malone directs the adaptation by Michael Haigney, based on Satoshi Tahjiri's characters. Not yet rated.

Brown Sugar - Taye Diggs plays a successful but unfulfilled music executive, and Sanaa Lathan acts a respected music critic, and both attribute their friendship and the launching of their careers to the moment when they witnessed the birth of hip-hop on a New York street corner, 15 years earlier. Rick Famuyiwa directs a cast that includes Mos Def, Nicole Ari Parker, Boris Kodjoe and Queen Latifah. PG-13.

The Rules of Attraction - Academy Award-winning director/writer Roger Avary (screenplay for "Pulp Fiction") presents a narrative-bending adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' scabrously funny social satire of life and love among the young and privileged. Stars are Shannyn Sossamon, Kip Pardue and James Van Der Beek. Supporting cast includes Jessica Biel, Eric Stoltz, Clifton Collins Jr., Kate Bosworth, Swoosie Kurtz and Faye Dunaway. Not yet rated.

Below - Strange happenings on a World War II submarine, starring Bruce Greenwood, Matt Davis, Olivia Williams and Scott Foley. Directed by David N. Twohy ("G.I. Jane"). Not yet rated.

Oct. 18

Punch-Drunk Love - Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights," "Magnolia") shared the director's prize at the Cannes Film Festival for this tale of a warehouse owner hemmed in by seven controlling sisters, who drive him to fits of rage and a fixation on phone sex. Adam Sandler takes on a change of pace in the central role, in a company that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Emily Watson, Luis Guzman and Mary Lynn Rajskub. R.

The Ring - Based on one of Japan's biggest box-office hits, the 1998 "Ringu," this thriller focuses on a female journalist who finds a deadly videotape and learns that everyone who has seen it has died within seven days. Will she be next? Naomi Watts ("Mulhollland Drive") heads the cast of this remake by Gore Verbinski ("The Mexican"), who also has the services of Martin Henderson, Brian Cox, David Dorfman, Chris Cooper, Daveigh Chase and Richard Lineback. Not yet rated.

Abandon - Benjamin Bratt heads the cast of the writing-directing debut of Stephen Gaghan (who won an Oscar for "Traffic"). The plot centers on Bratt's recovering-alcoholic cop, investigating the 2-year-old disappearance of a college student played by Charlie Hunnam. As happens in such cases, the cop falls for the student's girlfriend, played by Katie Holmes. Also on campus or on the case are Zooey Deschanel, Gabrielle Union, Gabriel Mann, Mark Fuerstein, Melanie Lynsky, Will McCormack and Fred Ward. PG-13.

Formula 51 - Samuel L. Jackson now transforms himself into cornrowed Elmo McElroy, in England to introduce a new designer drug to the European underworld. But in Liverpool, he finds himself caught with a bizarre escort, played by Robert Carlyle ("The Full Monty"), and beset by double-dealing and double crosses. Emily Mortimer, Rhys Ifans and Meat Loaf lend support under the direction of Ronny Yu. PG-13.

Oct. 25

Paid in Full - Woody Harris plays a dry cleaner counter man named Ace, who covets the cars and clothes sported by his friends, acted by Mekhi Phifer and Kevin Carroll. Delivering laundry to an apartment, Ace meets Esai Morales' Lulu, and is drawn into a new life as a drug dealer. Directed by Charles Stone III, this tale of the perils of the city also features Regina Hall, Elise Neal, Chi McBride and introduces Cam'ron. R.

Jackass: The Movie - Johnny Knoxville, seen sporting two heads and conflicting personalities in "Men in Black II," joins with his crazy friends to perform gross-out gags and other offensive acts in Jeff Tremaine's film version of the television series. The ensemble includes Bam Margera, Chris Pontius, Steve-O, Dave England, Ryan Dunn, Jason Acuna, Preston Lacy, Ehren McGhehey, Brandon Dicamillo, Henry Rollins, Tony Hawk and Spike Jonze. R.

Ghost Ship - A boat salvage crew in the Bering Sea encounters a ghostly ocean liner thought lost for 40 years. Julianna Margulies, Gabriel Byrne, Ron Eldard and Isaiah Washington head the cast under the direction of Steve Beck. Not yet rated.

The Truth About Charlie - Jonathan Demme directs Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton in a reworking of Stanley Donen's classic 1963 "Charade," which starred Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Newton plays Regina Lambert, who meets Wahlberg's Joshua Peters while she is in Martinique, thinking about ridding herself of her husband, Charlie. Returning to Paris, she discovers that her apartment and bank account have been looted, and that Charlie has been murdered. The ensemble includes Tim Robbins, Joong-Hoon Park, Ted Levine, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Christine Boisson and the French auteur Agnes Varda, with special appearances by Charles Aznavour, Anna Karina, Pierre Carre and the French rappers Saian Supa Crew. PG-13.

The Guest - A romantic comedy starring Tara Reid, Molly Shannon, Carmen Electra, Andy Richter and Terence Stamp. Not yet rated.

Nov. 1

Frida - Salma Hayek won out over Madonna and Jennifer Lopez in the struggle to bring to the screen the life of the Mexican artist and social revolutionary, with Julie Taymor ("The Lion King" on Broadway, "Titus") as director. Alfred Molina plays Frida Kahlo's husband and mentor, Diego Rivera, and the cast includes Geoffrey Rush as Leon Trotsky, Antonio Banderas as muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, Ashley Judd as photographer Tina Modotti and Edward Norton (who also worked on the screenplay) as Nelson Rockefeller. R.

I Spy - The classic Bill Cosby-Robert Culp secret-agent show undergoes updating for Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson, though the sport is no longer tennis. Murphy plays the undefeated middleweight champion Kelly Robinson, reluctantly teamed with Wilson's CIA super agent, Alex Scott. Betty Thomas ("Dr. Doolittle") directs a cast that also includes Famke Janssen and Malcolm McDowell. Not yet rated.

The Core - Aaron Eckhart, the Neil LaBute favorite seen as a scholar in "Possession," now enjoys a change of pace as the geophysicist Dr. Josh Keyes, who discovers that an unknown force has brought Earth's inner core to a halt, and that the planet's magnetic field is rapidly deteriorating. It is thus time for a journey to the center of the Earth, with "terranauts" played by Hilary Swank and Bruce Greenwood. Also featured in Jon Amiel's jump into science fiction are Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, D.J. Qualls, Tcheky Karyo, Richard Jenkins and Alfre Woodard. Not yet rated.

The Santa Clause 2 - It has been eight years since Tim Allen scored his only real box-office success (other than his voicings of Buzz Lightyear). Thus, eight years have transpired since his Scott Calvin became a Santa Claus, much admired by elves that again include David Krumholtz. Now, it seems, his son Charlie has entered the "naughty" column. So his father must rush to help. A substitute Santa generates heat at the pole. There is also a clause requiring a Mrs. Clause. Eric Lloyd is back as Charlie, with Wendy Crewson as his mom and Judge Reinhold as his stepfather. Elizabeth Mitchell and Spencer Breslin are featured, and Michael Lembeck directs. Not yet rated.

Nov. 8

8 Mile - Eminem takes on his first starring role in this portrayal of an all-important week in the life of Jimmy Smith Jr., a young Detroit tough guy who wishes for a better future through music. Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential") directs a cast that includes Kim Basinger as Jimmy's trailer-park mother, Brittany Murphy as his girlfriend, Mekhi Phifer, Eugene Byrd and Taryn Manning. Not yet rated.

Femme Fatale - Rebecca Romijn-Stamos to takes on a glamorous role as a seductress/con woman exposed to the world, and to her enemies, by a voyeuristic photographer played by Antonio Banderas, who becomes caught up in her quest for revenge. Brian DePalma directs a cast that includes Peter Coyote, as well as assorted French film stars, including Sandrine Bonnaire. R.

Release Dates Uncertain

Welcome to Collinwood - Five Cleveland misfits join to pull off a big job, burglarizing a loan shark's safe, only to have their plans go awry. Anthony Russo and Joseph Russo direct a cast headed by Luis Guzman, Michael Jeter, Patricia Clarkson, Andrew Davoli, Isaiah Washington, William H. Macy, Sam Rockwell, Gabrielle Union, Jennifer Esposito and George Clooney, who produces with Stephen Soderbergh. Opens in limited release Oct. 4. R.

Heaven - Tom Twyker ("Run Lola Run") directs Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi in a tale of a British teacher living in Turin, Italy, who sets off on a journey in quest of retribution and redemption after her husband dies of a drug overdose. Ribisi plays a young police officer, who joins Blanchett's fugitive on the run. The screenwriters are Krzysztof Piesiewicz and the late director-writer Krzysztof Kieslowski ("The Decalogue," the so-called "Tricolor Trilogy"). Limited release Oct. 4. R.

Swept Away - Guy Ritchie's collaboration with the Missus, better known as Madonna, reworks the 1975 Lina Wertmuller classic about strange bedfellows shipwrecked on a desert island, which co-starred Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini.

This time, the rough seaman is played by Adriano Giannini, the son of the original star, and Madonna acts the spoiled wife of a pharmaceuticaltycoon played by Bruce Greenwood. Jeanne Tripplehorn has a featured role in the film, shot in Malta and Sardinia. The film, rumored for a time to be headed straight for video, opens in major cities Oct. 11, with no date for Hartford set. R.

Naqoyqatsi - Filmmaker Godfrey Reggio and composer Philip Glass collaborate again on the third installment of the visionary trilogy that began with "Koyaanisqatsi" ("Life Out of Balance") and continued with "Powaqqatsi" ("Life in Transformation"). The new kaleidoscope of nature and technology, tragedy and hope, boasts music played by Yo-Yo Ma. PG.

Waking Up in Reno - A romantic comedy about two couples to traveling to Reno to see a monster-truck show. Stars Billy Bob Thornton, Charlize Theron, Patrick Swayze, Natasha Richardson and Brent Briscoe. Rated R.

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